You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

For ‘Tenenbaums’ design team, it’s all in details

Film recreates New York in its own vision

Designed down to the spots on the Dalmatian mice, the majesty of “The Royal Tenenbaums” is found in its attention to the minute details that ground the eccentric family of former geniuses firmly in reality, albeit a reality that is completely fictitious.

Shot in Gotham, the setting is a kind of parallel New York haunted by the styles of the late ’70s to early ’80s. It’s this kind of parallel universe that inspired both the Art Directors Guild and the Costume Designers Guild to include the film among their respective nominees for contemporary film achievement.

“(Director-co-writer Wes Anderson) was very particular about the fact that the city wasn’t New York. If you watch the movie closely, you’ll notice that we changed out all the street signs,” says art director Carl Sprague. “Even in choosing locations, we avoided picking any recognizable New York landmarks. It serves to sort of mythologize the story a bit.”

However, the locale did make finding and building the film’s approximately 250 sets a challenge. Central Park Zoo became the rain forest of New Guinea and a quarry in New Jersey became the Andes. For the vignette of tennis player Richie’s televised breakdown, they restored Forest Hill’s tennis stadium, putting down 10,000 square feet of AstroTurf.

Anderson found the family’s house in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights a year in advance, derelict but with intact Tiffany glass windows. The residence was completely restored and doubled as a set and ministudio.

The look was built on a such a small scale that it mostly hits the viewer on the subconscious level. A pink theme runs through the interior of the house and in such apparel as Royal’s ties, Etheline’s suit and Margot’s 4½-fingered glove. Giraffes haunt Margot’s childhood, inhabiting her room’s wallpaper, her play and the museum she runs away to with Richie. And some visual oddities, like the boar in the game closet, provide comic relief.

“(Anderson) had a rather specific group of ideas that we carried out. This wasn’t something that was sort of just thrown together,” says production designer David Wasco. “Everything was anguished over and scrutinized and redone if it wasn’t absolutely what he had in his mind.”

“From the beginning, Wes said that he wanted this to be highly stylized, so I knew I could go pretty far,” says costume designer Karen Patch, whose ’70s duds were inspired by historical figures like Kofi Annan and Bjorn Borg. Her attention to detail resulted in the use of such fabrics as cashmere, camel hair and tweed.

“We’ve worked together so many times before,” says Patch, “that we can cut through the red tape and know what to anticipate.”

More Film

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    'Hunchback of Notre Dame' Live-Action Reboot in the Works at Disney

    Disney is in early development on a live-action “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie, based on Disney’s animated film and Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “Notre-Dame de Paris.” Playwright David Henry Hwang is attached to write the script, with Mandeville Films and Josh Gad set to produce. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz will pen the music. [...]

  • Bill Skarsgard and Eliza Scanlen

    'It' Star Bill Skarsgard and 'Sharp Objects' Actress Eliza Scanlen Join Netflix's 'The Devil All the Time' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “It” star Bill Skarsgard and “Sharp Objects” breakout Eliza Scanlen will star in Antonio Campos’ adaptation of “The Devil All the Time,” which Netflix has officially acquired for distribution. Skarsgard and Scanlen join an all-star cast that includes Tom Holland, Chris Evans, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and Tony Award winner Gabriel Ebert, who attached themselves [...]


    How Writer-Crew Collaborations Are Changing the Script for the Creative Process

    In traditional filmmaking, once a script is written, the director and department heads break it down and figure out the costs and logistics of production. But if the screenwriter collaborates during the creative process with key crew members, the entire production can benefit.  Such collaboration offers the prospect of help on many fronts. For example, [...]

  • FICG TV Pitchbox Confirms Fox, Alazraki,

    FICG TV Pitchbox Swells Key Company Attendance

    Fox Networks Group Latin America (FNGLA), Alazraki Films, EndemolShine Boomdog and Fabula have confirmed their attendance at the inaugural FICG TV Pitchbox, the new co-production market of one of Latin America’s biggest film events, Mexico’s Guadalajara International Film Festival (FICG). They join previously announced participants HBO Latin America and Turner Latin America (FNGLA). More attendees, [...]

  • Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s ‘The Kindness

    Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s Berlin Opener ‘The Kindness of Strangers’

    Munich-based Alamode has taken German and Austrian rights to Lone Scherfig’s “The Kindness of Strangers,” ahead of the picture’s opening-night gala screening at the Berlin Film Festival next month. Alamode acquired the rights from London-based HanWay Films, which is handling worldwide sales. Entertainment One is distributing the film in Canada and SF Studios in Scandinavia. [...]

  • Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller

    Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller 'Blackwing' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Voltage Pictures will produce and fully finance screenwriter David Loughery’s latest thriller “Blackwing,” Variety has learned exclusively. The company will introduce “Blackwing” to buyers at the upcoming European Film Market at the Berlin Film Festival, which opens Feb. 7. Nicolas Chartier and Dominic Rustam are producing, and Jonathan Deckter is executive producing for Voltage Pictures. [...]

  • ‘Metro Exodus’ Opens Up Post-Apocalyptic Russia

    ‘Metro Exodus’ Author On Film, Possible TV Series, Expansive New Game

    Since the launch of the post-apocalyptic survival first-person shooter “Metro 2033” in 2010, the series has kept its action confined to the tunnels running underneath Russia. “Metro Exodus,” due out next month, takes the gameplay to the surface for the first time, going above ground with sprawling levels against a changing backdrop of weather conditions [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content